New Study: Panspermia Theory Not Looking So Good

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Panspermia Theory on Thin Ice When It Comes to Populating the Outer Reaches of the Solar System

You’ll just have to pardon the ice pun in the headline there because we’re talking about Europa, Jupiter’s icy moon. You see, for years now, Europa and other planet-sized moons orbiting Jupiter, Saturn, and the other outer planets have fascinated scientists looking for signs of extraterrestrial life. Europa, for example, jumps to the top of the list a lot of times because it probably has liquid oceans beneath its icy surface. In fact, just recently, scientists discovered more evidence of these oceans. The idea of whether or not life exists on these moons fascinates us. But, if we did find life there, the next logical question would be, “How did it get there?” Of course, we still can’t completely answer that one for ourselves. That doesn’t mean we’ll stop asking, though. In fact, some scientists already have an idea: Panspermia.

If you’re unfamiliar with the idea behind panspermia, or, more accurately in this case, “lithopanspermia,” I’ll let this video explain it in more detail:

Panspermia Theory for Dummies

If you’ve been reading Space Porn for any length of time, you know that I love tardigrades. Those awesome little super-creatures are the toughest things ever. They can survive frozen in space for up to ten years, scientists say. They’re also essential to the Panspermia theory. The idea, in a nutshell, is that Back when life was first starting here on Earth, a massive collision broke off millions of rocks and sent them flying into space. Some of those rocks had tardigrades and other super-tough microbes on them. Then those rocks crashed into other planets like Mars and helped life to develop there, too. 

Panspermia theory is a little controversial because some people use it as an argument for creationism or intelligent design. Nevertheless, there are plenty of legitimate scientists who have taken it seriously.

New Study Says Europa and Others Are Too Far Away

While it is conceivably possible that Panspermia could explain the presence of any microbes or other organic life we might find on Mars in the next couple of decades, a new study says it’s practically impossible for even tardigrades to make the long journey to Jupiter or Saturn. 

Using computer 100,000 computer simulations, Purdue University geophysicist Jay Melosh and his team found a surprisingly small percentage of successful outcomes. In fact, only 0.0000002% of the microbes made it to Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons. The conclusion, then, is that if we do someday find subsurface life on Europa or other life on those outer moons, those populations will most likely have been indigenous. In other words, each of those worlds would have had their own “Genisis.” 

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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2 Responses

  1. Avatar Mike Shaw says:

    Thanks, Brandon –
    More info for your readers on my website – tardigrade.us I’m the guy who started it all with the video First Animal to Survive in Space. You can see my thoughts on the panspermia theory in that video (linked on my website).
    Mike Shaw
    The Space Bear Hunter

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